Friday, November 8, 2013

Mayor frosty to ‘green’ plan for city

EPA grant requires evaluation of ‘sustainability’ options

Express Staff Writer

Hailey Community Development Director Micah Austin searches through files Wednesday at City Hall. Photo by Roland Lane

    Hailey has led the Wood River Valley in passing eco-friendly initiatives aimed at conserving energy, utilizing alternative energy sources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions that lead to global climate change.
    Former Hailey Mayor Susan McBryant began the movement when she signed the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement in February 2007, joining more than 700 other municipalities in the United States committed to meeting or beating 1990 greenhouse-gas emissions levels.
    A proposed Green Economic Development Plan presented Monday to the Hailey City Council celebrates these efforts while further promoting sustainability guidelines and priorities that city staff members think could stimulate job growth in the Wood River Valley.
    Hailey Community Development Director Micah Austin presented the plan to the Hailey City Council, causing some concern for Mayor Fritz Haemmerle over the message such a plan could send to developers and potential new businesses looking to open in Hailey.
    “We already have zoning regulations. What would this really do?” Haemmerle asked.
    Haemmerle said in an interview that he is in favor of economic development plans, but does not think a “green” plan should stand out as the city’s only economic development plan.
    “I think there is a stigma associated with that, which could drive away other businesses. We do not want to stop businesses from coming here,” Haemmerle said.
    The 11-page plan was written by city staff to satisfy a requirement of a $472,000 EPA Climate Showcase Grant the city received in 2011. Hailey is one of the 50 EPA grants awardees around the country, all of whom have sponsored multiple programs aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and conserving natural resources.
    Councilman Don Keirn suggested removing a tax-abatement priority within the proposed plan that could incentivize certain businesses over others, saying it was not in the city’s jurisdiction to do so.
    Councilman Pat Cooley suggested removing a provision to support bio-fuels production.
    “We don’t want a gas plant here,” Cooley said.
    Hailey’s EPA grant funded Hailey Sustainability Coordinator Mariel Platt’s three-year position, which is scheduled to end in February.
    During the last three years Platt has created numerous green initiatives, including promotion of a new mandatory green building ordinance, construction of a LEED-certified welcome center, home-energy-audit and retrofit rebate programs, and a bike share program.
    Platt has also formed partnerships with grant sub-awardees, including Mountain Rides, the Building Materials Thrift Store, the Environmental Resource Center and the South Central Community Action Partnership, as well as 12 local businesses and individuals.
    Since 2011, Platt and her partners have created a construction-waste recycling program, completed nine solar projects, 66 energy audits and retrofits, seen 278 miles traveled by 5B BikeShare bikes, and provided workshops and green building demonstration tours to 507 people.
    According to Platt, for every $1 of EPA grant funding, $1.8 dollars of private or other funds were spent, equating to $224,000 injected into the “energy-efficiency economy.”
    Platt said several of the EPA grant-funded programs have also reduced energy costs.
    “This is money that can now be used for things other than to pay bills,” she said.
    A full account of the EPA grant’s reach in the Wood River Valley will be detailed in a documentary film, also funded by the grant.
    The green development plan furthers all of Platt’s and her partners’ programs, while prioritizing “green job” creation in local food production, alternative energy production and transportation, recycling and energy-efficient home-building trades. The plan also calls for establishing measures of the plan’s success over time.
    Platt said she is unsure how many jobs have been created so far by the grant programs, but that most contracts under the grant were made locally and benefited the private sector.
    “The plan will give us the ability to categorize sustainable priorities, define green jobs, and establish benchmarks for success,” Austin said Monday.
    The plan, if it is approved, would be part of a larger strategic economic plan, which would include the downtown revitalization plan, a bike and pedestrian plan, and the Hailey Urban Renewal Agency’s plans, he said.
    One EPA Climate Showcase Grant recipient city that has been in the news lately is Keene, N.H., population 22,539. Keene residents use methane gas from a landfill compost pile to power a generator to run a recycling facility. They will soon use excess power to develop a one-acre fish farm and produce a garden that city leaders expect to bring an economic boon.
    Haemmerle said he did not know when the proposed new plan would be again on the City Council agenda.
    “It will not see the light of day again until we have an overall economic plan in place,” he said.

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